I admit I was leery of joining Facebook, for many reasons. The idea of potentially reconnecting with any random person I ever met in my entire life was not a selling point. Like many people, it took several friend requests before I gave in to curiosity and signed up- fully expecting to check it out once or twice and quietly walk away.
Here I am a year (or is it two? three?) later and I'm still on Facebook. In fact, I check in nearly everyday either on my computer or phone. Quick skim through my news feed; chuckle/comment/think about the witty/interesting/odd status updates; maybe look at some photos/links/videos; post my own random twitter-esque thought; maybe click-click-click through a mindless game; go back to real life.
Those little mini-breaks are good for clearing my head between writing/parenting/cleaning/cooking/etc., or so I tell myself. Plus, life is busy and it's a quick way to stay in touch with friends and family. But am I really staying in touch?
In some ways I know more about my friends: the songs that get stuck in their heads, how much they remember about sitcoms of the 80s, how crazy-good they are at Bejeweled... And I'm not being sarcastic there. Those are the tiny, quirky things that make people interesting. I love those status-reviews posted in the moments after seeing a movie, reading a book, or going to a concert. And of course it's fun to share photos or links to funny, thought-provoking, or just plain bizarre things on the web.
But sometimes I take a break from my too busy life, feel like having a meaningful conversation, and realize that it's been weeks since I actually called or visited with friends. It's always a shock. I see them all the time on Facebook. I know what they're up to, but it isn't the same thing as doing something together or sitting down for a long talk over a glass of wine.
My "friend" list has morphed as well. It originally only contained family and friends that I actually spend time with- people I would consider more than passing acquaintances. Then, people from the distant past -- former co-workers, classmates I haven't seen since high school or even elementary school, etc. -- began filling out the list and I'm honestly not sure what to think of that.
In a few cases it's been genuinely great to reconnect. In some cases, I've accepted friend requests only to have the person then ignore even my simple hello message (?). And most past connections fall somewhere in between, with an initial exchange followed by occasional comments or maybe just joining each other in click-click Facebook games. From what I hear, that seems pretty typical.
What I'm not sure about is how I feel about the idea of people staying connected to every person who has ever passed through their lives. Will today's kids, with their vast Facebook friend lists and social networking tools, actually expect to keep up with everyone they've ever known? Are we no longer allowed to close chapters in our lives? Is it healthier to stay somewhat connected to all the people and places in our pasts or to gain closure and move on to new adventures?
Does it mean I'm a bad, grudge-holding person if I hope to never have contact with some people from my past? Should I be concerned that there are people out there who wouldn't want to reconnect with me? Or is it preferable to move on and leave past hurts in the past?
At dinner the other night we were talking about what defines a person. It led to interesting questions about how experiences change people. Would a person with amnesia still be the same person after he lost his memories? Is someone today the same person he was 5 or 10 years ago, and will he be the same person 5 or 10 years in the future?
I can't help but wonder how Facebook influences those questions. If experiences change who we are, is it better to continue to move forward or to be reminded of who we once were? Does it help us to see how we, and our former friends, have changed? Does the past threaten regression? Or does it matter at all?